The truck whisperer arrived at dusk, in a beat-up old Ford F150.
The first thing I noticed when he slipped out of the driver’s seat was his snakeskin boots. He had a solid build, leathery skin, a grey goatee, and a dusty old cowboy hat with a feather jutting out of the top.
His beefy hands dug a pack of Camel unfiltered cigarettes from his faded blue jeans pocket. He lit one, squinted at the audience of homeowners milling about the cul de sac, and then nonchalantly walked over to the nervous, young, big rig driver.
“Got yourself in a pickle,” the truck whisperer said.
“Yes, sir. Got lost, took a wrong turn, and thought this street led back to the highway. Turns out it led to this here cul de sac. I tried to get her turned around, but things got kinda sketchy.”
Things definitely got sketchy.
The small cul de sac sat atop a steep grade, partially surrounded by short residential driveways and a cliff on one side. Anxious residents phoned the police department after watching the young trucker nearly back his big rig off the cliff.
As a patrol officer, I’d seen my share of unusual accidents and traffic situations. But upon being dispatched to the scene, I understood why the residents were nervous. We all watched as the young trucker edged his big rig back and forth, the cab shaking with each start and stop. Due to the steep grade, the entire rig was listing dangerously to one side.
Exasperated, the young trucker asked to use a resident’s phone, and he called his truck company for help. Someone from the company was in the area and showed up, surveyed the situation, and said, “We need to call Jake.”
“Who’s Jake?” I asked.
“The truck whisperer,” the young trucker said.
And then the artistry began
I never heard of the truck whisperer, but the young trucker knew all about him.
“The guy’s a legend,” he told me. “They say he’s been driving truck since he was a teenager. I think he retired a few years back, but the company keeps him on retainer when they need help.”
In the distance, the truck whisperer took a few drags off his cigarette and then walked around the perimeter of the stranded rig. He ambled over to a resident and asked if she’d be kind enough to move her car off the driveway into the garage. He needed every inch of space.
And then the artistry began.
The truck whisperer climbed into the stranded big rig, fired up the engine, set it into gear, and began maneuvering it back and forth. The entire rig seemed to shake and rattle.
He backed the rig almost to the cliff’s edge and then lurched forward at an odd angle. The rig nearly tipped over. Then he jockeyed the rig in another direction. The back-and-forth movements went on for a while.
It was like an awkward dance.
But slowly, bit by bit, the truck whisperer began turning the rig around. Somehow he could see angles and percentages of distance better than mere mortals, and somehow his unorthodox algebra of lurching movements worked.
Finally, backing up one last time at an odd angle and almost clipping a resident’s garage door, the truck whisperer rolled forward and the big rig was turned around, ready to descend back down the unforgiving street.
Everyone erupted in applause.
The truck whisperer climbed out of the cab, lit another cigarette, and strolled over to the young trucker.
“Best to always carry a map with you, son,” the truck whisperer said with a grin as he tossed the young trucker his keys. Then he walked back to his Ford F150, climbed in, and drove off down the hill.
The entire incident felt like something out of a major motion picture. The only thing missing was some dramatic theme music and end credits.
“That was something to watch,” I said to the young trucker.
“The dude is a legend,” the young trucker replied. “Even if I drive truck the rest of my life, I doubt I’ll ever catch up with his skills. He’s sort of an unsung hero. Salt of the earth. Only those of us in the industry know about him.”
An unsung hero. Salt of the earth.
Society and the media mostly focus on movie stars, politicians, sports heroes, and celebrity figures, but it’s often the unsung heroes and salts of the earth that make a huge difference in our lives.
They’re the ones who show up and fix our heaters and air conditioners. They’re the ones who make sure our favorite grocery store is stocked. They’re the ones on patrol at 3 AM when we’re asleep, or educating our children while we’re at work. They’re the builders, truckers, plumbers, electricians, and tradespeople who keep the world functioning.
Unsung heroes and salts of the earth are the ones who make the world a better place, but sadly, we often take them for granted.
A person’s character is what matters, not their job title
My father was an administrative law judge and a highly educated man.
Dad was an amateur historian, bibliophile, and an intellectually curious person. He worked with other judges in San Francisco, and most of the neighbors where we lived were all highly educated professionals.
And yet, Dad seldom socialized with his work associates and neighbors.
Dad preferred to hang out with his barber, Pat, and a local handyman named Corey. Sometimes Dad would hire Corey for odd jobs, and afterward, they’d sit in the living room and talk for hours about history, politics, and life.
Dad once told me that he liked Pat and Corey because they were authentic, lacking the arrogance and pretension he experienced with some of his associates and neighbors. Like the neighbor down the street from us, who painted his last name on the mailbox, followed by “Ph.D.”
“I prefer the salts of the earth,” Dad told me. “Working folks who create things, fix things, and make the world a better place.”
Of course, Dad knew that plenty of professionals and highly educated folks contribute to society. But for some reason, Dad found everyday tradespeople more enjoyable. With them, there was no competition, one-upmanship, or affectation. Just easy conversation and respect for the work they do.
Dad liked to relax by doing physical labor around our house.
He cut weeds on the hillside, built a storage shed, and laid brick patios. He admired people who possessed expert masonry, carpentry, and plumbing skills (partly because he struggled with all those disciplines).
“Johnny, we take these people for granted,” he’d tell me whenever I was enlisted to help with a project. “We don’t appreciate the talents and skills of the folks who build and fix things.”
What’s worse, sometimes white-collar professionals and the highly educated look down on tradespeople, as if they’re inferior or less important.
Arrogance is an ugly thing. It blinds us to the fact that a person’s character is what matters, not their job title.
Our society has fallen out of love with the skilled trades
I think Dad would have liked the television personality Mike Rowe, who is known for his Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” and his CNN show “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”
Mike Rowe is an advocate for the skilled trades and those who are called to them.
Rowe believes we should promote more vocational training because we need skilled tradespeople to keep our world humming along. And he recognizes that not everyone is meant to pursue a university degree, which often requires loans that leave young graduates in serious debt.
“In a very general way, our society has fallen out of love with the skilled trades. Part of the problem is a myriad of myths and misperceptions that surround the jobs themselves, but the biggest cause is our stubborn belief that a four-year degree is the best path for the most people.”—Mike Rowe
If we neglect to support the skilled trades, where will we find the truck whisperers and vocational wizards to fix our homes, cars, machines, and devices?
No doubt, I respect the highly educated who become brain surgeons, engineers, and physicists. But when the toilet is on the fritz, it’s my plumber who I hold in the highest regard.
The next time you need an electrician, plumber, or skilled tradesperson, remember the truck whisperer. Remember that there are unsung heroes and salts of the earth out there, ready to come rescue us in our time of need.
Marvel at how skilled they are with their craft. Take an interest in their work. And when they’re done, thank them and give them a tip.
Because unsung heroes and salts of the earth make the world a better place.
Read more of John’s work here